Ashley Sutton secured the 2015 Renault UK Clio Cup title in his ‘rookie’ season in the category following victory in a dramatic final round of the season at Brands Hatch GP, in which suspected suspension problems for erstwhile leader Ash Hand ended his title challenge.
Sutton headed into the race with an eleven point deficit to his Team Pyro stablemate Hand, meaning a top two finish would be enough to overturn the gap if Hand were to finish sixth or lower – and so it proved during a nail-biting fifteen lap encounter.
With pole-sitter Ant Whorton-Eales withdrawing from the race due to damage sustained in the weekend’s opener, it was Sutton who led the field through Paddock Hill Bend for the first time ahead of Tom Grundy, with Hand quickly taking third from the sensation of the race Paul Streather.
The safety car instantly emerged though after an off for Rory Green into the Paddock gravel trap and contact between Josh Price and Rory Collingbourne at Druids that spun the latter’s Team Cooksport Clio around.
A fantastic restart for Sutton saw him edge a gap to Grundy behind, who would go on to run wide at Druids to allow Hand and Streather through – with it going from bad to worse for Grundy on the back straight as contact with Charlie Ladell almost sent them both into the barriers.
Ahead, Streather nipped past Hand on the GP loop for second just before the safety car appeared on track again, this time after Masters Cup champion Mark Howard found himself beached in the Clearways gravel trap.
On the second restart, the front two instantly broke away from the pack and commenced a sensational battle for victory, with Sutton determined to take the win to give himself the best chance of the title, while Streather was looking to cap off a superb debut on a perfect high.
Streather snatched the lead for the first time coming out of Clearways on lap seven, but Sutton dived back ahead at Paddock on the start of the next lap. Running nose to tail thereafter, it almost came to tears on lap nine when slight contact between the two almost sent Sutton into the pitwall.
That was a plight that had already befallen Jon Maybin, with contact sending him into the pitwall on lap eight and out of the race, while Sam Watkins was also out after finishing his season in the Paddock gravel trap.
Another driver suffering drama was Hand, with a clear lack of speed compared to his rivals meaning he was defenceless as Dan Holland and Paul Rivett got ahead out of Westfield on lap eight, with Luke Kidsley following past at Clearways.
That put him in a position that meant victory or second would crown Sutton champion, but the Team BMR-backed racer was still embroiled in a thrilling battle with Streather, who got back ahead with a repeat move out of Clearways on lap ten.
Sutton hit back again at Druids on lap eleven though and after the duo ran side-by-side for a large portion of lap thirteen, Streather led onto lap fourteen until a run wide at Surtees left Sutton back through, and he held on to the lead to take the 2015 title with a sixth win of the season.
Streather capped off a remarkable debut with the returning Finesse Motorsport in second, while it became a four-way scrap for the lead in the closing two laps as Holland and Kidsley joined the fray, the former taking his second podium finish in three races, the latter the race’s fastest lap.
Hand meanwhile gained a spot when engine troubles forced Rivett into retirement, bringing an end to a fantastic drive from 19th and last on the grid, but late moves from Ben Palmer and Grundy consigned him to seventh in the results and second in the standings.
For Palmer, fifth place completed a stunning drive from 18th on the grid with 20Ten Racing, while Collingbourne recovered from his opening lap dramas to take eighth ahead of team-mate Alex Sedgwick, Tom Butler and Ladell.
Only eleven drivers finished in what proved to be a war of attrition, with George Jackson retiring after contact with Ladell, and Tom Witts also joining Rivett, Watkins, Maybin, Price, Howard and Green on the retirements list.